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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Africa: Debt Update

Africa: Debt Update
Date distributed (ymd): 991005
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +US policy focus+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains excerpts from a speech by U.S. President Bill Clinton to the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, including a new commitment to cancel 100 percent of debt owed to the U.S. by Heavily Indebted Poor Countries. It also contains initial reactions to the speech by Jubilee 2000 UK and Jubilee 2000 South Africa.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

September 29, 1999

Remarks by President Bill Clinton
to the 1999 annual meeting of the
International Monetary Fund and World Bank

Let me say, all of you know that a year ago we were here in a time of crisis, perhaps the most severe financial crisis in the global economy since the end of the Second World War -- a grave challenge to the IMF and the World Bank. Thanks to the hard work that you and your countries have done, economies that were sliding down are rising again.

We have also worked hard, as Secretary Summers said, in the wake of these crises to prevent future ones, to respond more quickly and effectively, to lessen the toll they take on ordinary citizens. We have intensified our efforts to construct a global financial architecture that is stable and strong in the new conditions of the new economy.

Still, those who were hit by this crisis were hit very hard. And many are still reeling. People lost jobs and businesses and dreams. So this can only be considered a continuing challenge for us, certainly not a time for complacency. We have more to do to restore people's faith in the future and to restore their faith, frankly, in the global economy and in global markets. Therefore, we have more to do to reform the global financial foundation upon which the future will be built.

As we approach the 21st century we must also ask ourselves, however: is it enough just to fix the market that is? Should we accept the fact that, at a time when the people in the United States are enjoying perhaps the strongest economy in their history, 1.3 billion of our fellow human beings survive on less than a dollar a day? Should we accept the fact that nearly 40 million people -- after the Green revolution, when most of us discuss agriculture and food as a cause for international trade conflicts because we want to fight over who sells the most food, since there are so many places that can produce more than their own people need -- are we supposed to accept the fact that nearly 40 million people a year die of hunger? That's nearly equal to the number of all the people killed in World War II.

Are we supposed to accept the fact that even though technology has changed the equation of the role of energy in the production of wealth; even though technology has changed the distances in time and space necessary for learning, and for business, as well as educational, interchanges -- are we supposed to face the fact that some people and nations are doomed to be left behind forever?

I hope we will not accept that. I hope we will start the new millennium with a new resolve: to give every person in the world -- through trade and technology, through investments in education and health care -- the chance to be part of a widely shared prosperity, in which all the peoples' potential can be developed more fully. This is the challenge of the second half-century of the life of the IMF and the World Bank. And for me it is a personal priority of the highest order.

Open trade already has improved the prospects of hundreds of millions by marketing the fruits of their labors and creativity beyond their borders. In this way, both the IMF and the World Bank have played a vital role in helping more nations to thrive. We need you to work with the WTO to build a rules-based framework for global trade. We need you to help developing countries provide education and training to lift wages, and to establish social safety nets for tough transitions.

I applaud the strong commitment you've made at these meetings for concrete manifestations of support. We all must work to keep the economies we have influence over open, and trade growing, for developing and industrial powers alike.

In two months, I want to launch a new type of trade round in Seattle, at the WTO ministerial. I want this round to be about jobs and development. I want it to raise working conditions for all. I want it to advance our shared goal of sustainable development. By breaking down barriers to trade, leveling the playing field, we will give more workers and farmers in those countries that are struggling for tomorrow -- and in leading industrial nations, as well -- more opportunities to produce for the global marketplace.

In Seattle, I hope we will pledge to keep cyberspace tariff-free, to help developing countries make better and wider use of technology -- whether biotechnology or the Internet. I hope we will pledge to open markets in agriculture, and industrial products and services, creating new activities for growth and development.

I hope we will also work to advance the admission of the 38 developing countries who've applied for WTO membership. And I hope we'll keep working to give the least developed countries greater access to global markets. Here in the United States, I am working hard to persuade our Congress to pass my trade proposals for Africa and the Caribbean Basin this year.

But the wealth of nations depends on more than trade. It also depends on the health of nations. Last week at the United Nations I committed the United States to accelerating the development and delivery of vaccines for AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases which disproportionately afflict poor citizens in the developing world.

At the same time, we must help these nations avert the health cost and pollution of the Industrial Age -- using clean technologies that not only improve the environment, but grow the economy. Institutions like the World Bank play a special role here. Your energy strategy is a very good start and I thank you for it. I urge the Bank to continue setting aggressive targets for lending that promotes clean energy. It is no longer necessary to have Industrial Age energy use patterns to grow a modern, powerful economy. In fact, those economies will emerge more quickly with more sustainable development strategies. ...

For many developing countries, however, there is a greater obstacle in the path to progress. For many of them, excessive and completely unsustainable debt can halt progress, drag down growth, drain resources that are needed to meet the most basic human conditions, like clean water, shelter, health care and education. Debt and debt relief are normally subjects for economists. But there is nothing academic about them. Simply put, unsustainable debt is helping to keep too many poor countries and poor people in poverty. That is clearly why the Pope and so many other world leaders from all walks of life have asked us all to do more to reduce the debt of the poorest nations as a gift to the new millennium -- not just to them, but to all the rest of us, as well.

Personally, I don't believe we can possibly agree to the idea that these nations that are so terribly poor should always be that way. I don't think we can, in good conscience, say we support the idea that they should choose between making interest payments on their debt and investing in their children's education. It is an economic and moral imperative that we use this moment of global consensus to do better. I will do everything I can to aid this trend. Any country, committed to reforming its economy, to vaccinating and educating its children, should be able to make those kinds of commitments and keep them.

In June, at the G-7 summit in Cologne, the world's wealthiest nations made an historic pledge to help developing nations. The debt relief program we agreed upon is a big step in the right direction, dedicating faster and deeper debt relief to countries that dedicate themselves to fundamental reform. This initiative seeks to tie debt relief to poverty reduction and to make sure that savings are spent where they should be -- on education, on fighting AIDS and preventing it, on other critical needs. It will help heavily indebted poor countries to help themselves and help to build a framework to support similar and important efforts by the IMF, the World Bank and international financial institutions.

More than 430 million people could benefit from this effort. In Bolivia, for example, debt relief could help the government nearly double the people's access to clean water by 2004. In Uganda, it could allow health and education spending to increase by 50 percent between 1998 and 2001. Rural development expenditures there would more than double. That's why we all must provide our fair share of financing to global debt relief.

Last week, to make good on America's commitment, I amended my budget request to Congress and asked for nearly $1 billion over four years for this purpose. We must keep adequate assistance flowing to the developing countries, especially through the International Development Association. I'm encouraged by the financial commitments made by some of the other donor countries this past week.

And I call on our Congress to respond to the moral and economic urgency of this issue, and see to it that America does its part. I have asked for the money and shown how it would be paid for, and I ask the Congress to keep our country shouldering its fair share of the responsibility. (Applause.)

Now, let me make one final commitment. Today, I am directing my administration to make it possible to forgive 100 percent of the debt these countries owe to the United States -- (applause) -- when -- and this is quite important -- when needed to help them finance basic human needs, and when the money will be used to do so. In this context, we will work closely with other countries to maximize the benefits of the debt reduction initiative.

We believe the agreements reached this weekend will make it possible for three-quarters of the highly indebted poorest countries, committed to implementing poverty and growth strategies, to start receiving benefits sometime next year -- actually receiving the benefits sometime next year.

If we do these things as nations, as international institutions, as a global community, then we can build a trading system that strengthens our economy and supports our values. We can build a global economy and a global society that leaves no one behind, that carries all countries into a new century that we hope will be marked by greater peace and greater prosperity for all people.

We have before us perhaps as great an opportunity as the people of the world have ever seen. We will be judged -- by our children and grandchildren -- by whether we seize that opportunity. I hope, and believe, that we all will do so.

Thank you very much.

Press Statement by Jubilee 2000 UK

Clinton Pledges Cancellation For Poor-Country Debt

30th September 1999

President Clinton announced today that the US would cancel 100% of debt owed to the United States by the world's poorest countries, provided the money was spent on basic human needs. His statement was made at a joint meeting of the World Bank and IMF and laid down a direct challenge to other creditors to increase the debt cancellation on offer.

"Today I am directing my administration to make it possible to forgive 100 percent of the debt these countries owe to the United States, when, and this is quite important, when needed to help them finance basic human needs and when the money will be used to do so," Clinton announced.

Explaining the decision, Clinton said: "Simply put, unsustainable debt is helping to keep too many poor countries and poor people in poverty." He went onto say that debt cancellation was a "moral and economic imperative at this moment of global consensus"

White House spokesman Jake Siewert confirmed that Clinton's announcement represents an expansion of the previous U.S. commitment to debt relief made at the Cologne summit of the Group of Seven (G7) major powers in June. He said the United States had intended initially to forgive 90 percent of the debt owed by eligible nations. ``Today we're talking about 100 percent debt forgiveness,'' Siewert said.

In addition to the proposal, Clinton also outlined his personal commitment to debt cancellation. He said:

"I hope we will start the new millennium with a new resolve, to give every person in the world, through trade and technology, through investments in education and health care, the chance to be part of a widely shared prosperity in which all the people's potential can be developed more fully."

He emphasised: "For me, it is a personal priority of the highest order."

The announcement follows intense pressure from the Jubilee 2000 movement, and in particular the declaration by the Pope following a meeting with musicians, academics and campaigners on September 23rd. The Pope specifically questioned why progress in resolving the debt problem is so slow, and expressed impatience with the protracted negotiations.

When Clare Short, UK Minister for International Development, was challenged on the BBC Today Programme as to whether Britain would be following suit, she said, "I'm sure Stephen Byers will look into it." (Stephen Byers is the Minister for the Department of Trade and Industry to whom 95% of Third World debt due to Britain is owed).

Many government representatives at the IMF and World Bank meetings had been saying privately and publicly that now that the Cologne deal was agreed, the issue of debt had been dealt with. However Clinton's statement breaks open the debate again and should significantly advance the process.

Ann Pettifor, Director of Jubilee 2000 UK Coalition said:

"This announcement changes everything. In order to rise to President Clinton's challenge to 'do better', the world's leaders must meet again before the millennium and agree to 100% cancellation."

"Under the deal agreed this week in Washington, too many countries will still be paying more on debts than on health and education. It covers too few countries, offers too little cancellation and has no deadline. As a result relief will be stretched over too many years. The world's leaders must go further - now."

03 October 1999

Jubilee 2000 South Africa Press Statement on Clinton's Debt Cancellation Announcement

Since the 1980s, we have heard many grand announcements on debt "cancellation". Yet the debt crisis in the Third World is greater than ever. It is therefore with caution that we welcome President Clinton's announcement of the 100% cancellation of the United States bilateral debt. We further welcome his stated acknowledgement that comprehensive debt cancellation is a "moral and economic imperative". The leaders of those other rich countries that have not yet cancelled bilateral debt must do the same and scrap the total debt of poor countries. Now is the time to do it.

Clinton's announcement weakens those critics who have said that Jubilee 2000's demand for total debt cancellation is economically irresponsible and impossible. Jubilee 2000 South Africa will continue to insist on 100% multilateral debt cancellation for Third World countries by the IMF and the World Bank, without structural adjustment conditionalities.

Jubilee 2000 is shifting gear and will intensify pressure on apartheid's bank-rollers to follow Clinton's announcement by immediately scrapping the apartheid debt. Now is the time for German, Swiss, UK, and US banks that profited from apartheid to end their odious profiteering and make reparations for the suffering they sponsored. Why must the victims pay twice for apartheid? We call on them to cancel the illegitimate apartheid debt.

Clinton too, can "do better". The imposition of structural adjustment conditions attached to the promised 100% bilateral cancellation is not an effective way to eradicate poverty. It will obstruct real debt cancellation, increase joblessness, limit delivery of social services, and deepen poverty and inequality. He also needs to scrap his Africa Growth and Opportunity Bill which, if it becomes law, will result in even harsher conditions being imposed on African countries. Jubilee 2000 opposes the use of debt cancellation to unilaterally impose economic policies that are detrimental to the poor.

Still too few countries are being promised cancellation of too-narrowly selected debts. For a debt-free millennium, Jubilee 2000 calls for the total cancellation of all Third World debt. Clinton's offer to cancel the bilateral debt of just 36 countries falls well short of our demand.

Clinton's annoucement must be in addition to and not replace development aid. Development aid to poor countries has recently been declining sharply. If grand debt cancellation gestures are meaningful and not a charade, then real Jubilee debt cancellation must provide real additional benefits to the poor.

Jubilee 2000 has consolidated and strengthened its global network of peoples' solidarity and this will gain expression in the South South Summit. Jubilee campaigners and activists from other powerful social movements from throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia will meet in Johannesburg from 18th to 21st November to push for immediate and total cancellation of Third World debt.

For more information please contact Jubilee 2000 SA Publicity Officer, George Dor, at tel. 011 648 7000, or National Secretary, Neville Gabriel, at tel. 083 449 3934 George Dor 60 Isipingo Street, Bellevue East 2198, South Africa Tel: (27) (11) 648 7000 Email:

Note: This press release from Jubilee 2000 South Africa was made available by BRC-NEWS, a news service of the Black Radical Congress, including General News, Alerts and Announcements. To subscribe to BRC-NEWS: Email "subscribe brc-news" to <> For an archive of BRC-NEWS go to: (The first time, you need to "Join" and set your preferences to "Read on the Web")

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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